Voting for West Bengal panchayat polls begins

Kolkata: Polling for electing 38,616 representatives across three tiers to West Bengal Panchayat (rural) bodies began at 7 a.m. on Monday.

Long queues were seen outside several booths as people from all social and economic backgrounds patiently waited for their turn to exercise their democratic right.

Pre-poll surveys have predicted that the coming rural elections could provide an emphatic answer to the questions, with the BJP predicted to leave the Left Front and the Congress far behind and emerge as the main rival to the Trinamool — which, the surveys claims, would walk away with the bulk of the seats at all three levels — panchayat, panchayat samiti and the zila parishad.

As the nomination process started last month, all the opposition parties accused the Trinamool of indulging in strong arm tactics to prevent them from filing nominations.

Television pictures broadcast across the channels showed groups of armed mobs gathering before the offices of the Block Development Officers and the Sub-Divisional Officers in a number of districts and stopping prospective candidates from entering the poll fray.

The matter reached the Calcutta High Court, and the State Election Commission (SEC) extended the deadline for submitting nominations by a day, only to reverse the order in less than 12 hours, allegedly under pressure from the Trinamool.

The judiciary then put a stay on the elections, then scheduled to be held on May 1, 3 and 5.

More bitter legal battles followed, at the end of which the SEC declared May 14 as the new polling date.

Statistics reveal that of the total 58,692 seats in the three tiers of rural local bodies, 20,076 seats or 34.2 per cent have already been decided uncontested, with the Trinamool bagging a whopping proportion of these seats.

These seats include 16,814 of the total 48,650 panchayats, 3,059 of the total 9,217 panchayat samitis and 203 of the total 825 zila parishads.

The Supreme Court has now asked the SEC not to issue winning certificates in case of the uncontested seats.

The SEC has, on the other hand, said all arrangements had been made for providing security for the polls. Around 71,500 armed personnel would be on duty, manning every booth.

Armed forces have also arrived from Assam, Odisha, Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh to strengthen security arrangements.